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The Latest from Iran (5 December): The Victory of Nasrin Sotoudeh's Hunger Strike

Nasrin Sotoudeh1903 GMT: Drone Watch. The US military has backed away from its earlier denial that none of its drones could have been downed by Iran.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the drone displayed by the Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday appeared to be a U.S.-made ScanEagle. He said it could not be determined if the drone was operated by the US.

Commenting on Tehran's claims that it extracted valuable data from the ScanEagle, reportedly captured in the Persian Gulf, Little said it was “highly improbable” that useful intelligence could be gained from the relatively unsophisticated drone.

1717 GMT: Health Watch. Extracts from Reuters' overview of the crisis in health care, "Sanctions, Government Blamed for Iran's Drugs Shortage":

"There's a serious shortage of cancer medicine. The lives of so many patients are at risk," one cancer specialist said by phone from Tehran. A wide range of drugs was no longer available, he said, and finding alternatives was a complex challenge....

"Those who have relatives in the West can ask them to get pills but how are they going to pay for them when the rial has lost so much of its value to the dollar?" the doctor said....

Ali, 68, has been treated for Alzheimer's disease for the last four years. In recent weeks he has been unable to purchase the German-made drug he takes in Iran and is now waiting for his medication to be delivered from France, where his son lives....

"It's really frustrating. It'll be really difficult to pay for them. We're talking expensive pills here," he said.

1521 GMT: Press Watch. An EA reader alerts us that the reformist Bahar newspaper has reappeared after a 32-month ban for "publishing items contrary to reality" and "creating doubt regarding major issues such as the elections".

1507 GMT: Diplomacy Watch. Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the human rights section of the judiciary, has spoken about interactions with other countries and organisations over the human rights issue --- the French and Germans are "lowlifes" while the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, is a "moron".

(Hat tip to Essikhan Sadeghi Boroujerdi)

0907 GMT: Surveillance Watch. Last year investigative journalists linked the Chinese company Huawei Technologies to sales of equipment to the regime that could be used in the monitoring of protesters and dissidents. Reuters posts a follow-up report today: that a partner of China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd offered to sell a Huawei-developed "Lawful Interception Solution" to MobinNet, Iran's first nationwide wireless broadband provider, just as MobinNet was preparing to launch in 2010.

The system's capabilities included "supporting the special requirements from security agencies to monitor in real time the communication traffic between subscribers," according to a proposal by Huawei's Chinese partner seen by Reuters.

Huawei also gave MobinNet a PowerPoint marketing presentation on a system that features "deep packet inspection" --- a powerful and potentially intrusive technology that can read and analyze "packets" of data that travel across the Internet. Internet service providers use DPI to guard against cyber attacks and improve network efficiency, but it also can be used to block websites, track internet users and reconstruct email messages.

Huawei says it has never sold either system to MobinNet and doesn't sell DPI equipment in Iran. But a person familiar with the matter says MobinNet did obtain a Huawei DPI system before it began operating in 2010. The person does not know how MobinNet acquired it or if it is being used.

0722 GMT: Drone Watch. The latest regime postures over its claimed capture of a US ScanEagle drone over the Persian Gulf....

The Revolutionary Guards Corps have boasted that data hsa been extracted from the drone. It chided the US military over its denial that it had lost a ScanEagle: "Washington has to take a new tally of the aircraft".

The deputy commander of the Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, bragged, “The new US failure in spying operation by this drone demonstrated that the US government, despite its high military and economic power and its dominance on the world political order, is not capable of confronting the Islamic Iran, and Iran can easily undo all its plans."

Salami emphasised that the Iranian success had come despite Western sanctions: "Had sanctions been imposed on the US in this way, it would have collapsed within a day."

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would pursue legal redress from international bodies:

We had told the Americans that according to international conventions, we would not allow them to violate our borders, but unfortunately they did not comply....Of course, we had objected to the Americans before, but they claimed they were not present in our territories. We will use this drone as evidence to pursue a legal case against the US invasion at relevant international bodies.

0715 GMT: A Fight Over the Economy. A telling incident as Minister of Industry Mehdi Ghazanfari blamed the Central Bank for economic problems as it has been "incapable of providing foreign currency to cover the needs of the country": "Last year, the sanctions only hit the banking and shipping sector, but now, commerce too has been shut."

Ghazanfari indicated that the Government had rescued Iran from the Bank's mistakes, as between March and September, $11 billion out of $27 billion for imports came from "non-[Central] Bank foreign currency".

0710 GMT: Opposition Watch. The banned Islamic Iran Participation Front has put out a statement that “inside the ruling establishment no determination exists for holding a free, just, healthy and legal election". It called for opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to be freed from house arrest as “the first condition for trust-building".

The Front, a leading reformist party, was banned by the regime in 2010.

0640 GMT: While the regime was promoting its claimed capture of a US drone, I was just as interested throughout Tuesday on a developing story which is unlikely to be mentioned in Iranian State and semi-official media.

After 49 days, imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh ended her hunger strike. During those seven weeks, authorities relented on their ban on family visits, and Sotoudeh's husband wrote yesterday that officials had withdrawn the ban on travel outside Iran on their 12-year-old daughter.

Those might seem like small victories, but they are the first won by political prisoners since hundreds were seized in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections. Indeed, as we noted in Tuesday's coverage, Sotoudeh was the first detainee to win recognition from MPs --- apart from attention in 2009 to the Kahrizak detention centre after at least three protesters were killed --- that there might be something wrong with the conditions under which political prisoners are being held.

Sotoudeh's hunger strike was briefly accompanied by that of other female detainees at Evin Prison. Will their demands over treatment be heeded? And is there any way that the regime can be pushed to consider not only treatment but the actual deprivation of liberty for those who have dared to dissent or to defend others who have protested?

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